August 23, 2009

Calvo Padre: My summer as a spy

In late May, I decided to start an ambitious adventure for my two boys. This is an of the overview whole story.


It began with a letter in the mail addressed to the boys.
It told them that my name was Calvo Padre and that I had been investigating them and discovered they were smart, hard-working boys and that I had selected them to be trained as secret agents.

The next day they received an email on the special email account I set up for them that had them retrieve a number of children's books off their shelves in order to crack a code. This was the occasion on which they received their first reward. Once they realized their was candy at stake they were fully invested! It was hard to contain them.

In addition to giving the boys (and me) something fun to do this summer, the secret agent project was also designed to encourage them to learn certain things we wanted them to know. To that end, the boys' next mission was to memorize their entire address, both of their parents' cell phone numbers and the emergency number (911). When they had successfully memorized them they were required to recite them on a webcam recording and send the videos to Calvo Padre.

Each of the boys had to devise a codename for himself. The requirement was that the names had to be made up of an adjective, then a noun. They came up with them and emailed their choices to Calvo Padre. The next day when I picked the boys up at school and we returned to the car, their was an envelope on the windshield of our car with these inside.

The boys were told (via email message) to walk out their front door and walk fifteen paces straight ahead. Then to walk ten pace to their right. Then to look down. There, they saw the metal door to the water shut-off for the house. When they opened the door they found two disposable cameras and instructions for a photo hunt. When they got all the pictures required of them they uploaded the photos and linked Calvo Padre to them. (Click the heading of this mission to see slideshows of their photos.)

I got this message from the boys in my Calvo Padre email account a few days later.
Dear Calvo Padre,

Thank you for all the messages that are fun!

I have a poem about you!

You're #1! You're the best!
And you're definitely not a pest!

Your Secret Agents,

Secret Fire &
Invisible Power

For this mission the boys had to design their own obstacle courses and then run through them to get the best time they could. I told them the agency needed ideas for their training obstacle course. The things they came up with were pretty clever. Slide shows of the courses are available at this post.

One of our goals for the boys was that they would become better swimmers. They were willing to play in the pool but when we tried to get them to move toward swimming even a little bit they were terrified. They had both started getting comfortable floating on pool noodles kicking their feet behind them. So, to help them gain confidence I set up a mission that was waiting for them when they arrived at the Baylor pool (which we frequent). I had ten plastic Easter eggs each containing a riddle inside. They had to retrieve the eggs and solve the riddles to get their reward.

I have to confess I made this one up purely because I knew there would be great pictures. I asked the boys to come up with three distinct disguises each and to send pictures of themselves in those disguises to Calvo Padre. The results were as great as I imagined.

By this point a number of my friends and family were following along with the boys' adventure and one friend just couldn't resist being a part of the fun. Traci Ledford, a recent grad of my MFA program asked if she could play the part of a rival spy master named Iron Bridge.

Calvo Padre informed the boys of her presence, and sent them an intercepted email to her minions that laid out her plan for world domination. The boys received a handful of letters and emails and each time they had to look for clues about Iron Bridge's next target and her identity. Occasionally, she even sent a photo of her doing shady things to recruit her own young agents.

Thanks again, Traci... er... Ms. Bridge. You were awesome.

By this time in the summer, the boys were both swimming pretty proficiently so as promised they UNLOCKED a mission. They got this one while in Orlando, FL (Calvo Padre can find you anywhere). It involved their powers of observation and memory. Follow the link to take the quiz they took.

The aforementioned Iron Bridge told me about an exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Science dedicated to the "Science of Spying". We had little choice but to check it out.

There were some cool things about the exhibit. One of which was the disguise bin at the beginning of the exhibit. I love this pic because you see my oldest son seriously embarrassed by his father.

The end of the summer had to come eventually. And I was ready to unburden myself of this secret. The last mission had to be a humdinger so I sent the boys on a treasure hunt all around Waco, TX. They had to show their ID's to complete strangers to collect clues and prizes. They faced wild animals. They climbed to dizzying heights. The last clue told them that all their clues had a secret word hidden on it and that putting the words together would show them how to discover the true identity of Calvo Padre. (Follow the link to see all the clues and pics of the hunt.)

In the end, I was worried the boys would be disappointed it was just me. But I made a point of celebrating their accomplishment of discovering it was me and I kept celebrating what a great job they had done with the missions all summer long. Once it sunk in that it was me Elijah said "give me a hug, Calvo Padre!" and Isaac said he was a little bit mad. But ultimately, they both had a lot of fun with all the missions. Almost as much fun as me.


sha said...

congrats on on awesome mission, Calvo Padre! what a great experience for your boys (and you too!)

Chris Dinger said...

Wow, it takes a lot of love and creativity to make this whole thing happen. I'd have just sent them to day camp and drank.

amghalstead said...

Dan- What an amazing dad (and secret agent) you are! I may just steal your idea and try something like this with Trey next summer. He'll be 5 then. How old were your boys when you did this?